AOL FRANCE, 22.03.1999

Integral transcription of the interview of 22nd March 1999

AOL France: © Copyright Canal+ 1999
Thanks to Franck Drui for his big help with the translation from French to English!

Also available in French and German.

Hello Alain Prost, we are happy to receive you in this auditorium. We start immediately with a first question.

Which is the objective for the season?
The principal objective is to mark a great progression throughout the year. If we look at McLaren and Ferrari as the two favourite teams, our objective is to battle with teams like Benetton, Sauber, Williams... It is especially to prepare the season 2000 which will be much better.

What do you think of the performances of Olivier Panis at the Australian GP?
Olivier had many small technical problems during the tests. He missed his qualifications. During the race, he returned on a much better level of performance. In the morning session, he was on 5th position. But at the moment, he is not in top condition. He needs a good result very quickly.

What do you think of the cars for the Brazilian GP?
Normally, the layout of the circuit should be rather favourable for us. It is a splendid circuit with many fast sequences, straight lines, rises, descents. We have a rather long car, a powerful engine in high revs. Like we progressed these last days in private tests, we hope to carry out good results. The objective is to finish in the points.

Isn't this 99 Formula 1-season the decisive year for Prost GP?
People ask me this question very often. I think that 99 certainly won't be the decisive year. On the other hand, it is a very important year in the construction of our team. That's why I said that we should show a significant progression. But the important thing is to manage the long term. We should not just concentrate on a single season.

Were you in race configuration during the Barcelona tests?
We were all the time in race configuration. We did many endurance tests to work on the reliability of the car and the engine. Only at the end of the last day, we sought the performance on a track which was much slower because there was less wind. But the goal of these tests was not at all the performance.

How do you live a F1 season when there is so much money in game?
The difficulty is to manage the very short term and at the same time to prepare the strategy for the long term. The financial stakes are very important. The paradox is that we need more money to win but it is also necessary to win to have more money!!! That's the reason, why I work much more on the long term at the moment.

Which are your biggest development problems?
We cannot say that we have a big problem there: a F1-car is so complex, it is a multitude of details you have to regulate. Perhaps that the largest handicap today is we have to pay our bad 98 season and to change everything in 99. Additionally, the weight of our engine/gearbox package is still much too high. Despite everything, we started with determining very well the fields in which it is necessary to concentrate. But we can't realise everything at short term. Therefore the biggest problem is also a problem of time!

Among the new drivers, who has been, according to you, the most promising during those two last seasons?
Trulli, Fisichella, Wurz, Ralf Schumacher, perhaps Zonta and De La Rosa...

People often speak about safety. Which are the most worrying problems according to you?
We had big problems with the wings this winter. We had luck not to have an injured driver. The problems is that we had exhaust fumes directed to the rear wings. In F1, there were many improvements on the cars even and also on the circuits. The biggest problem today could come owing to the fact that F1 has increasingly light cars, always becoming smaller, which use increasingly light materials. Some cars have about 50 kgs of ballast which the team can move according to the circuits.

How did you decide to start a sporting career?
While playing soccer at the age of 8! And then by karting, one day by chance. I was 15... And after that...

Which is your opinion in connection with the polemic of the dual BAR deliveries?
It is a wise decision of the international federation. As our sport is very limpid. Everyone can recognise at TV the brands of the cars by their colours and their decoration. That would have created a detrimental precedent for the public interest.

What do you think of the concurrence this year?
I think that the concurrence is increasingly strong. There are no more small teams. And we could certainly have some surprises this season. The first could come from the Stewart team.

Do you think that there are not enough French drivers in Formula 1?
Of course! It is not only a lack of French drivers. It is a lack of training and, overall, an interest which is lost for the promotion of the motorsport in France. Including the sponsors. We certainly have to do much to recreate an essential formation in this country. The French drivers are victims of this system.

Can we consider one day the transfer of Jean Alesi to Prost GP?
Nothing is impossible. To realise a transfer, it needs two people! For the moment, we have two drivers perfectly adapted to our team. But you never know.

When Trulli or Panis are obliged to give up the race, what do you feel?
A very big sadness for all the team which works enormously... For more than two years, this team has worked without having the joy of tasting the success yet. I feel that this is very frustrating for us.

Are the gearbox problems partly solved for this season?
To be honest, we solved our gearbox problems for a very long time. In 1998, we only gave up once for this reason... There was much communication on the gearbox problems, much less on other problems!!!

Given that Trulli is "better" than Panis, will Trulli become n°1?
There is no position of n°1 or n°2 in our team, as long as the place of World Champion is not played. But if I must personally give the priority to a driver in the interest of the team and only in this interest, I will do it without a problem!

Will you drive the AP02 yourself, be it for your own pleasure or for the car's set-up?
Neither for one nor for the other. I never ran in my car nor even sat in it!!! For the set-ups, that would take too much time, because you need to be at the top to be useful; as for the pleasure, even if I certainly would have some, I think that today there is a lot of work for the team and this is more important than my personal pleasure!

Which lessons did you get from the 1st GP of this season?
Something near to what we thought before going in Melbourne. McLaren is more powerful than than we thought and there was a small surprise with Stewart. We were where we thought in race although we missed our qualification by Saturday. This known, there are 5 weeks before the next Grand Prix, all the teams will work a lot and the Brazilian GP will be a true test!

Do you feel competitive comparing to top-teams such as Ferrari...?
Impossible to compete with Ferrari and McLaren for the moment. Their financial, technical and human means and their largely higher experience makes that we will still need time before competing with them.

Until when the Prost-Peugeot partnership?
By contract, our collaboration finishes at the end of the year 2000. We already began the discussions about prolongation.

Are the emotions felt during a race stronger in a car than in the pits?
I would never have imagined that my feelings are much stronger as a team owner than as a driver! Perhaps because I control myself much less outside of a car!!!

Which is your best souvenir as a driver?
The best is the 86 season with McLaren and especially the last GP in Australia when I became World Champion!

Is-it more difficult to be team-owner or driver; is both possible?
Both are completely inconceivable! For me, it is more difficult to be owner of a team especially today, with the economic implications. It is a true company.

Do you think that the new Peugeot A18 engine was developed enough to ensure a reliability making it possible for the team to win its 1st Grand Prix?
Peugeot works much on the reliability of the engine A18 and, at the same time, develops a completely new engine with a completely new technology. It will enable us to make a great jump ahead regarding to performance in the year 2000. Everyone is conscious in our team that we need this new engine to have a very good performance.

Aren't you disappointed to have chosen the Peugeot engine whereas you obtained excellent results with Honda as a victory in Monaco?
It was my wish to have a partnership with a French manufacturer, the challenge is to be World Champion with a French team.

Why have you changed from STAND21 driver-suits to those of SPARCO?
Normally, the choice of the driver-suits is a choice n°1 of safety, n°2 of aesthetics and n°3 financial. This choice is also made at the same time with the drivers and the mechanics of the team for their comfort during the pitstops.

Which are your criteria to choose a driver for your team?
The talent, of course! But also the team spirit.

Do you think that your experience is determining for the good development of the team?
I think that it is important but not determining. It is not only one person in any event which can save a F1 team. It would be an error to believe it.

Can we say that there are more mechanical errors than human?
The cars in general are increasingly reliable compared to a few years ago. The human errors always exist, the proof!!! ;0)

In the construction of a Formula 1-car, it seems to me that the only parameter that a team-director cannot control relates to the quality of the tyres. Are the tyres distributed equitably for all the teams?
I think that in 1999, as there is a monopoly, there is an equitable distribution with all the teams. When there is competition between two manufacturers, that's not always the case...

Is the Club PROST GP on the Net an "engine" for your team?
It is an engine for the team itself and also for the fans, the supporters. It is a means of gathering and it is a manner of making known the team, be it in France or abroad. It is a vector of additional and important image, also for our partners.

Are the FIA regulations too strict for a new F1 team?
No. The only difficulty for a new manufacturer in F1, as it was our case last year, is that there are the too drastic regulation changes. These changes are always an advantage for the top-teams.

Do the sponsors ask for a return on investment or are they just satisfied to see their logo appearing on F1 in order to ensure their notoriety?
There are no more sponsors that are just satisfied to see their logo. Each sponsor needs visibility. This one is less important when you are in the middle of the grid. We must compensate by other such important operations like, for example, the internal motivation in the company, the business to business relations, the public relations on all the tracks of the world... The partners of Prost GP accommodate more than 7000 people in the whole world on all the circuits (we are 2nd behind McLaren Mercedes for this).

On which parts of the car do you try to progress at the moment?
On the level of the weight, obviously! The weight remains an essential element. We also work a lot on aerodynamics. For Imola, we will also have a first engine evolution. We will have two more engine evolutions during the season. The car evolves unceasingly.

What do you think of Ralf Schumacher?
I personally consider him very good. He is somebody on whom I keep an eye for the future.

You spoke about reducing weight of heavy engines by using lighter alloys for their design?
Initially, it is necessary to work on the size and the weight. The alloy forms also part of the Peugeot projects.

It seems that all the drivers have the same talent and that only the cars make the difference. What do you think about it?
I do not really agree. The importance of the performance of the car surely is of primary importance. But the work of the driver in the team in particular to guide the engineers, to motivate the mechanics, in addition to his natural talent, often makes a difference even more important.

Olivier Panis seems to have difficulties to find the level he had before his accident and Trulli is often better placed than him. What do you think about that?
For the moment, Jarno seems more at ease. This kind of situation is completely logical. There is always a driver, who is a little bit faster in the same team. For the moment, it's Jarno. But let's wait and see. I do not think that the performances of Olivier today are related to his accident.

Don't the evolutions of regulations bring the driver's safety in danger?
No. I do not favour personally this evolution of the regulations for some time, in the interest of the races. But safety is not in danger.

Do you really believe in a GP on an American oval or elsewhere?
The circuit of Indianapolis which will receive the USA GP in year 2000 is a new circuit which will borrow apparently only one banked corner of the oval. In general, the F1 cars are not adapted at all for races on ovals.

We saw that McLaren had placed their drivers very low in the car, what do you think about it?
The weight distribution and the centre of gravity on the current cars have practically as much influence than aerodynamics. McLaren, with its very small Mercedes engine, has a great latitude on that level.

Is it true, that your will be at private tests in Magny-Cours tomorrow and on Wednesday? If yes, is it possible to watch the tests?
Yes, we will have tests in Magny-Cours tomorrow and on Wednesday with other teams (Stewart, Sauber and Williams beside others). It's possible to watch the tests if you ask there.

Thank you very much Alain Prost for your participation! A small word to finish?
Rendezvous on April 11th in Brazil, hoping that we will win the first points for our team. Thank you for your support!

AOL France: © Copyright Canal+ 1999
Thanks to Roger from Prost-Fan Club for the French transcript of the chat, which was only accessible to members of America Online (AOL).
Thanks to Franck Drui for his big help with the translation from French to English!

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